View Full Version : Reflections on the past (assessment of ISAF etc up to 2015)

09-19-2009, 10:55 PM
Moderator's Notice

This the last of five new threads on Afghanistan 2015 onwards and its focus is on Reflections on the past (assessment of ISAF etc up to 2015).

Currently there are 345 threads in the OEF arena, amidst which are many which appear to be reflective, some long before the ISAF mission for one example was rethought and redirected.

Here are a very few. The first started in April 2013 and ended in May 2013, entitled What will our expedition to Afghanistan teach us? It is fascinating to read now as January 2015 looms:http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/showthread.php?t=17997

Nor should we ignore the Soviet involvement; as Mick Martin relates in his book, many Afghans in Helmand thought ISAF followed their approach:http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/showthread.php?t=9483

Just found this SWJ paper, from April 2013 by a Danish author 'Afghanistan: Lessons Learned from an ISAF Perspective' at:http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/afghanistan-lessons-learned-from-an-isaf-perspective (ends)

Attached is a draft, nine page paper on the background to the culture and society to be found in Afghanistan, note the focus is Helmand Province. It is IMHO useful for intelligence and information operations staff first.

Please cast a critical eye and let me know your thoughts. It is not my work, but a helper beyond SWC.

There is a short list of recommended books.

It maybe suitable for the Afghan Lessons Learnt website eventually, or at least those nations who are in Helmand Province.


11-29-2009, 08:55 PM
A number of points (not in priority):

1) Contrary to briefings the Taliban do fight at night, especially in the hours after dusk and of course most IEDs are planted then. Secondly they do snipe accurately; example cited of blowing loopholes in compound walls and fire directed instantly at the holes.

2) The maps used in Helmand are based on aerial photograph, with a very high scale (1:70,000) and all pre-arrival training used "normal" maps and scales (1:25,000 and lower). It can take sometime to adjust upon arrival. UAV product is not available for operational elements i.e. printed out.

3) The quality of the ANA is very variable, one platoon in a joint patrol just ran off after the first shots were fired and drifted back hours later when situation resolved. There is little confidence in the ANA improving.

4) "Mowing the lawn" remains a fitting description of UK activity. Poppy fields were never seen to be eradicated; the locals would often ask about the Poppyfield Eradication Force (PEF), who they hated and were reassured UK activity was not PEF.

5) Due to cultivating the heroin poppy many of the locals are addicted to heroin; originally from cutting the poppy and the sap touching the skin - on the hands primarily so a transmission occurs (not sure about the science of this). The rooftop storage of drying material can include phials and syringes. Clothing and footwear are stained with poppies (is that a health issue?)

6) Not once have UK forces except by accident destroyed a poppy crop.

7) A heroin seizure (large amount) was only destroyed as different ROE existed for the units involved; the heroin was burnt in situ and later reported as a great success.

8) Patrolling with such full packs, citing up to 100 punds, was crazy; exhaustion commonly reduced effectiveness and when the opposition was darting around with just ammunition and a far lighter load stupid. Even buying local beasts of burden, donkeys would help.

9) Unlike Canadian "terps" (interpreter) the UK rely on locals recruited, without vetting, in Kandahar and the quality is very low. They are also not well treated by their UK partners and are given poor equipment. OPSEC is an issue and searching before going on ops / patrol can be required.

10) There is next to no operational intelligence available, not even historical reports are made available and awareness of local facts is limited. Example cited of going on patrol to a village, with a trusted "terp", who upon arrival announced being unable to help as the village spoke Dari only. Surely that language awareness is available?

11) The 'intelligence cycle' appears to be unknown and OPSEC plus obstructed any briefing efore planning operations. Company int cells appear to be dominated by TA staff who want an operational tour and effectively become "errand boys".

12) Firepower works when the Taliban are in the field; SAW replaced with GPMG gave an edge, but against compound walls little to hand worked.

13) Each UK brigade changes something in the tactical resource mix and this can quickly be detected by the opposition.

14) Successful covert observations and the resulting tactical successes can arouse opposition from vested local interests and even from Kabul.

15) It would be valuable if deploying brigades sent some personnel a month beforehand, to work alongside and learn from those in situ. Reading papers and talking in the handover is no substitute.

16) Track down the personnel who appear to do multiple tours and back to back.

Red Rat
11-30-2009, 08:57 AM

Not sure where you gleaned this stuff, but my comments (for what they are worth):

1) Agreed. But TB do tend to stick to fairly regular patterns of activity. Coalition forces have a better night vision capability then the TB but this can be offset in various ways. TB can put down effective fire, but their overall standard of marksmanship is generally poor (they do possess some good shots, but the AK is not noted for its ability to put down accurate fire).

2) Pre-deployment trg does see the issuing of these maps and aerial images, but this occurs in the 6 months immediately prior to the tour.

3) I hear very different from this. Everyone I have spoken to has rated the ANA highly. That said 205 Corps has been in Helmand for a long long time now and is tired.

4) I think this is changing. I see evidence of more operational design - mowing the lawn to a pattern!

5) Concur. Pakistan and Iran also have huge heroin addiction problems.

6) Concur.

7) Cannot comment - unaware of the incident.

8) Patrolling order consists of ammo, water, batteries and body armour. The biggest issue is the weight and the impermeability of the body armour which severely restricts manoeuverability and endurance.

9) If true this is an issue. It is different from my previous experience in AFG and Iraq.

10) That sounds dated to me, although it does reflect my own experiences! Int and continuity of knowledge at company level is very bad but getting better. The staff and structures are in place at Battle Group (Battalion) level.

11) Company int cells are no established and we normally have to double hat them. Some will be good, some not so. At company level OPSEC should not be an issue, but unlike the US we still use a plethora of IT systems and a very confused and complex filing system. I remember putting in an RFI (Request For Information) and three weeks later receiving the request for me to answer my RFI...

12) Compound walls will stop most hand held weapons, and bring a whole new meaning to the ability to bring 'danger close' fires in!

13) Concur. Annoys the hell out of our partners as well and we are trying to standardsie things somewhat.

14) Very much so.

15) This happens already, in the ops and int world.

16) Easier said then done. Plus things change that quickly that info is out of date very soon. That said for mapping the human terrain we should do much better at capturing and using this hard earned knowledge.


12-08-2009, 10:04 AM
10) The lack of 'corporate knowledge' is absolutely key. There is n;t even a sodding database, for Christ;'s sake. Ours consisted of a vast spreadsheet with reports given key words and hyperlinked. Int cells are arriving in theatre with really very very little knowledge and as job specs are so subject to change, this is exacerbated once actually in the job. Two examples from the top of my head:

- 3 Commando had a big mid tour push to regain Nad e Ali once it had begun to be used as the launchpad for a series of attacks on Lashkar Gah DC (what fun!!). This became Op Sond Chara (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Red_Dagger). A staff officer (who will remain nameless) re-rolled the J2 staff from each being responsible for a key district to solely looking at a specific area of the operational hub. 'Cpl X, don't look at Sangin anymore, till the op has finished you're on Babaji. Sgt Y, no more Musa Qala for you, I want you on Marjeh.' This meant the rest of the Province was neglected. I thought this represented the - how best to put it - narrower than would be ideal view of things brigades can have, especially at times when one geograhical area is hot topic. They have a very small six month window in which to acheive things and this can lead to neglect of the wider picture. In the broader sense it's imperative that int staff are better employed than a six month tour then posted when you return. We proposed to our bosses that for a two year period an analyst and an oppo would do 3 months on three off, which hopefully would increase corporate knowledge. The idea that six months is the right tour length for all ranks in all trades is ludicrous, frankly. Int staff need to be doing more. IED disposal folks, for instance, should be doing far shorter tours such is the intensity of the role. Anyway, I digress.

- The battlegroup int cell in Sangin had a JNCO whose job title was something along the line of 'Local Humint Liaison Officer.' His job was to work closely with the local NDS officer. That particular individual knew Sangin inside out, was extremely well versed in local lore and knew who was who and what was what. He was an utter brute as well and claimed he could smell the Taleban, but nonetheless was a remarkable source of local knowledge. The next brigade had no equivalent role and the danger was that the link was lost.

11) I'm not the best person to comment on the J2 picture at battlegroup level, but several failings are detectable. There is insufficent emphasis on what has happened, rather than why and what next. I have been told that infantry battalions have a tendency to put the geeky people who aren't necessarily brilliant in the field into int cells; this is self-evidently flawed, if true. In my experience they were almost completely occupied by the kinetic picture and concentrated very little on local dynamics, ket actors, human terrain etc. It's been noted that there is rarely any Intelligence Corps presence within battlegroup int cells; this is currently being adressed, I understand. The lack of helicopters means it's difficult for int blokes at the Brigade to get out and about to the FOBs, meaning not enough is shared.

I feel Red Rat's pain on RFIs...the formal CCIRM process, from our point of view, was a waste of time. Much better to try and get to know people and simply pick up a phone or send an email. The IT is also a madhouse. None of the, oh, ten berzillion or so different IT systems speak to one another. We're in the dark ages where this is concerned, I'm afraid.

15) Back to corporate knowledge. It has been suggested that some roles are created for 'Continuity NCOs.' All I can say is that when our replacements arrived we were shocked at how lacking some of them were.

12-30-2014, 08:26 PM
This the last of five new threads on Afghanistan 2015 onwards and its focus is on Reflections on the past (assessment of ISAF etc up to 2015).

Currently there are 345 threads in the OEF arena, amidst which are many which appear to be reflective, some long before the ISAF mission for one example was rethought and redirected.

Here are a very few. The first started in April 2013 and ended in May 2013, entitled What will our expedition to Afghanistan teach us? It is fascinating to read now as January 2015 looms:http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/showthread.php?t=17997

Nor should we ignore the Soviet involvement; as Mick Martin relates in his book, many Afghans in Helmand thought ISAF followed their approach:http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/showthread.php?t=9483

Just found this SWJ paper, from April 2013 by a Danish author 'Afghanistan: Lessons Learned from an ISAF Perspective' at:http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/afghanistan-lessons-learned-from-an-isaf-perspective

12-31-2014, 01:30 PM
A short commentary in the CSM. which has this as the sub-title:
None of the claimed long term objectives for the war in Afghanistan, either from the Bush or Obama administrations, have been achieved

A short summary IMHO:http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Security-Watch/Backchannels/2014/1229/The-Afghan-war-that-didn-t-really-end-yesterday-ended-in-defeat

Far more critical and not with an Afghan focus is John Schindler's scathing, part-intelligence insider column 'Bureaucracy Keeps Doing Its Thing', aimed at US especially DoD bureaucracy:http://20committee.com/2014/12/30/bureaucracy-keeps-doing-its-thing/

01-05-2015, 06:56 PM
This is an event @ London's Frontline Club, 28 Febuary 2015, 7:00 PM:
We will be joined by those who served in Afghanistan and the journalists who covered the country, to take a comprehensive view of the conflict from its inception after 9/11 to the withdrawal. Looking at the decisions that were made and the consequences of those actions, we will be examining the lessons that should be learned by British and coalition forces.Link:http://www.frontlineclub.com/afghanistan-the-lessons-of-war/

One UK journalist named so far. Events are open to non-members, for £12.50p and are released as a podcast afterwards.

If anyone is interested in a non-virtual RV let me know!

01-06-2015, 10:53 PM
Just stumbled across two contributions to the debate over what went wrong in Afghanistan (and Iraq). Both are clearly written with a focus on the UK, with the USA coming second.

First 'Our culture of cracking on must be tempered', which starts with:
The British Army has a culture of cracking on.Roughly translated into civilian speak, this means soldiers take a perverse pride in persevering in spite of overly ambitious operations and insufficient resources.Cracking on is absolutely vital at the tactical level; along with black humour it drives the Army on operations. But at the strategic level, cracking on does no one any favours.

Second a reply 'There is a danger of over-intellectualising war' and starts with:
The recent Fall When Hit article on cracking on contains some nuggets of truth but ultimately fails to prove its thesis.

02-14-2015, 07:17 PM
A SWJ article 'Thoughts from Garmser and Kabu' in which Octavia Manea interviews Carter Malkasian:http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/thoughts-from-garmser-and-kabul

The last Q&A:
SWJ: Iraq and Afghanistan may not be the last time when we engage in such operations. Which are the big lessons that we should keep in mind as we move forward? First, we should make sure the host country has enough police or soldiers made up of its own citizens to defend itself. Second, if our goal is to enable the country to stabilize itself, we may need to be willing to be there for a long time, hopefully with fewer troops rather than more. Third, once we go in, it is very hard to get out.

03-01-2015, 05:06 PM
This week there was a panel discussion @ The Frontline Club, London; with four panellists: Jack Fairweather, a journalist, Mike Martin, ex-UK Army officer and author of an Intimate War, ret'd Major General Jonathan Shaw and Jawed Nader, from an Afghan NGO.

There is a video and a podcast:http://www.frontlineclub.com/afghanistan-the-lessons-of-war/

Normally a haunt for the media there were a number of UK & US Army officers in the audience and yours truly.

03-20-2015, 11:23 PM
Actually the title of a book published in January 2014, but only noted today after a Tweet:http://www.amazon.com/dp/0691159386/ref=cm_sw_r_awd_80jdvb1QPD74R

The publisher's blurb in part:
NATO in Afghanistan explores how government structures and party politics in NATO countries shape how battles are waged in the field. Drawing on more than 250 interviews with senior officials from around the world, David Auerswald and Stephen Saideman find that domestic constraints in presidential and single-party parliamentary systems--in countries such as the United States and Britain respectively--differ from those in countries with coalition governments, such as Germany and the Netherlands. As a result, different countries craft different guidelines for their forces overseas, most notably in the form of military caveats, the often-controversial limits placed on deployed troops.
Providing critical insights into the realities of alliance and coalition warfare, NATO in Afghanistan also looks at non-NATO partners such as Australia, and assesses NATO's performance in the 2011 Libyan campaign to show how these domestic political dynamics are by no means unique to Afghanistan

04-24-2015, 03:04 PM
Dr. Rob Johnson, of Oxford University's Changing Character of War programme and SME on Afghanistan & COIN of late has a review of three books, one Jack Fairweather's is on Afghanistan and the other two are on strategy (Clausewitz & Sun Tzu):http://www.the-american-interest.com/2015/04/13/misunderstanding-war/

Many here I expect will be taken back by this passage on President Karzai:
Fairweather argues that Hamid Karzai, the President much criticized by the West, was hamstrung not by northern warlords who had helped him into power but by the international community, which “consistently prevented him from taking the necessary steps to help Afghans take control of their own future.” That is not how many Afghans saw it. The problem was not, as some Western critics claimed, that Karzai lacked legitimacy. He was not a marginal “tribal” leader, but the representative of one of the most prestigious families of Poplazai-Barakzai Pashtun heritage; he had more claim to leadership, by any historical reckoning, than the Ghilzai-led Pashtuns of the Taliban. While the Bonn Conference created an overly centralized government structure that was beyond the capacity and historical experience of the country to accommodate, the real problem, most critics now agree, was creating a peace settlement in which the vanquished were not invited. Be that as it may, the real problem was, in fact, that Karzai did not have the requisite apparatus of government to have his decisions implemented. He tended to meddle in detail in large part because the system functioned so weakly. In consequence, too much government depended on personality rather than on accountable bureaucracy. This situation, of course, is not unique to Afghanistan.

04-24-2015, 04:00 PM
Notice this week of this new book by Leah Farrell and Mustafa Hamid, available for UK£16, with free worldwide P&P (if you register with them):http://www.hurstpublishers.com/
The book PR refers to:
The Arabs at War in Afghanistan offers significant new insights into the history of many of today’s militant Salafi groups and movements. By revealing the real origins of the Taliban and al-Qaeda and the jostling among the various jihadi groups, this account not only challenges conventional wisdom, but also raises uncomfortable questions as to how events from this important period have been so badly misconstrued.

09-19-2015, 10:31 AM
The return of GIRoA control and flags to Musa Qala, a Taliban-held twon in northern Helmand in December 2007 is explained by the UK commander, Brigadier Andrew Mackay, in a reflective article:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-ff9a9c01-faa4-4038-b4e9-83e619460e1f

Maybe it is an AAR? Good photos apart it has some key passages and admissions. The author is well known as an advocate of 'influence', an argument that appears in other threads. Meantime here are some "tasters".

We were surprised at how little was understood about the people who inhabited this conflict area.What was the status of the tribal culture that had endured so much conflict and been criminalised through opium and heroin production?

(Later) My intelligence cell presented me with a different view. Over 30 years of conflict, population movement and the impact of opium and heroin production had fractured the tight tribal structure. Control of the drugs trade trumped wider tribal loyalties. Families and the smaller unit of the clan came before tribe. The tribes were a potent force, but in northern Helmand they were not positioned to drive the Taliban from Musa Qala. Rather contrary to the reporting "Iraq first":
Drones from Iraq were sent to Kandahar and aircraft were dispatched from aircraft carriers....Hundreds of helicopters, aircraft and drones were now being co-ordinated and readied. Most of them were American and many were being redeployed from Iraq.IIRC Musa Qala appears in several threads and now ret'd as a Major General Mackay appears in several SWJ articles:http://smallwarsjournal.com/search/node/mackay

01-17-2016, 08:46 PM
A good, short reflective piece from Stripes (which I rarely read); sub-titled:
Misunderstanding Afghan ideology key to coalition’s failure to maintain control

05-04-2016, 08:40 PM
Thanks to a "lurker" for the pointer to this pithy and fascinating commentary on the war from "Bata Tim" aka Tim Lynch, who was in Afghanistan "outside the wire":https://theramsdellbrief.com/2016/05/02/afghanistan-a-walk-down-memory-lane/

Nicely worded - why he writes like this:
One of the reasons I find these walks down memory lane distressing is my absolute conviction that our military will not learn one damn lesson from the ass kicking it took in Afghanistan. It can’t develop the tactics, techniques and procedures to win a fight like that because they are not capable of doing the most important step that needs doing and that is deploying units with intention of leaving them there for the duration.Some 2015 background on the author:http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/showthread.php?t=5975&page=11&highlight=babatim

10-18-2016, 07:13 PM
A sharp critique by an Afghan veteran, ret'd Brigadier James Dempsey, and IRRC many of the themes appeared here at the time. His slim bio:
Jason Dempsey retired from the Army in 2015, last serving as special assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He deployed to Afghanistan in 2009 as the operations officer to an infantry brigade and again in 2012-2013 as a combat advisor to the Afghan Border Police. He returned again briefly in 2014 to assess the advisory mission.Link:http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/10/18/our-generals-failed-in-afghanistan/

02-17-2017, 08:37 PM
A book review in the British Journal of Military History (BJMH) of 'Missionaries of Modernity: Advisory Missions and the Struggle for Hegemony in Afghanistan and Beyond' by Antonio Giustozzi and Artemy Kalinovsky, which was published in April 2016.

Alas the format stops any "cut & paste", but whilst it says the focus is global the focus is Afghanistan, so that is why it is here! Note the Soviet period is covered.

Link, with no reviews:https://www.amazon.com/Missionaries-Modernity-Advisory-Missions-Afghanistan/dp/1849044805/ref=sr_1_6?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1487363599&sr=1-6&keywords=giustozzi

Nor on UK:https://www.amazon.co.uk/d/Books/Missionaries-Modernity-Advisory-Missions-Struggle-Hegemony-Afghanistan/1849044805/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1487364002&sr=1-1&keywords=Missionaries+of+Modernity

The publisher's summary:
This volume is an historical survey of advisory and mentoring missions from the 1920s onwards, starting from the Soviet missions to the Kuomintang and ending with the mission to Iraq. It focuses on Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation and after 2001, but also deals with virtually every single advisory mission from the 1920s on-wards, whether involving 'Eastern Bloc' countries or Western ones. The sections on Afghanistan are based on new research, while the sections covering other cases of advisory/mentoring missions are based on the existing literature. The authors highlight how large scale missions have been particularly problematic, causing friction with the hosts and sometimes even undermining their legitimacy. Small missions staffed by more carefully selected cadres appear instead to have produced better results. Overall, the political context may well have been a more important factor in determining success or failure rather than aspects such as cultural misunderstanding

Too damm expensive, so a library search wen next in London.